F1 2021: Will the new rules deliver?

Formula One’s revamped set of regulations to be implemented in 2021 were revealed to the public for the first time last month, and it seems that the sport as we know it is set for a gigantic upheaval.

Unveiled at the Circuit of the Americas before October’s United States Grand Prix, the plans have been backed unanimously by all ten constructors and are said to bring better racing, create a more balanced competition and make the sport more attractive to potential future entrants.

Although the immediate reaction from fans to the new regulations has been mostly positive, there are some murmurs of scepticism within Formula One’s fanbase, with criticism directed at the speed of the cars and fears that the increase in standardised parts will eventually lead to the sport turning into a ‘GP1’ spec series.

So will Liberty Media’s attempt to reinvigorate Grand Prix racing have the desired effect?

The car

Perhaps the most significant change of all, Formula One cars in 2021 will be vastly different to the current crop.

They have been redesigned to make the cars look more aesthetically pleasing, with a redesigned front wing, beefier rear wing and low-profile 18-inch tyres, and reduce the ‘dirty air’ effect, which disrupts air flow to chasing cars, hampering downforce and speed. Official figures show the new car will lose just 15% of its downforce when following a rival within one car length, whereas the 2019 car loses closer to 50%.

The idea is that the cars will look sexier and be able to race each other more closely, improving the sport’s watchability and fan experience. Formula One’s bosses believe the new cars will be around three seconds per lap slower and 25 kilograms heavier, but FIA head of single-seater technical matters Nikolas Tombazis says that this is a price worth paying for better quality racing.

“We are expecting cars to be approximately 3-3.5 seconds slower per lap,” he told motorsport.com.

“But we don’t think that is the key parameter of the spectacle. We feel the raceability is the main target.”

The money

In an attempt to improve the sport’s fairness and create more balanced competition on the track, Formula One is introducing a cost cap for the first time.

Spending by teams will be capped at $175 million – but this does not include the salaries of drivers or the ‘top three personnel’ at any outfit. Marketing costs are also excluded.

It is expected that this change will also see top teams such as Mercedes and Ferrari receive far less prize money and smaller teams enjoy slightly more as Liberty Media looks to level the playing field to an extent.

This will surely contribute further to improving watchability and preventing excessive dominance in the sport (a la Ferrari with Schumacher and Brawn or Mercedes since 2014) which answers one of Formula One’s biggest criticisms in recent years.

The weekend

In 2021 Grand Prix race weekends as we currently know them are set for a shake-up.

While Saturday and Sunday will remain essentially untouched, the pre-race press conference is set to be moved to Friday morning before the first free practice session (as opposed to its current Thursday slot), while ‘parc ferme’ regulations prohibiting excessive work on the car will be in force from the start of FP3; presently this takes effect at the beginning of qualifying.

In addition, teams will be required to run at least two free practice sessions with a driver who has completed two or fewer Grands Prix.

Formula One believes that these minor changes to the structure of the weekend will help teams to deal with an extended race calendar, which is being increased to a maximum of 25 events from the current 22, and provide more opportunities for the next generation of future racing talent by increasing their involvement in practice sessions.

Technical regulations

New restrictions on excessive upgrades and development and the introduction of some standardised parts are two of the main changes to the sport’s technical rules and regulations in 2021, with the intention to breed closer competition and reduce spending by teams.

Rules will be introduced to limit car upgrades over race weekends and in-season aerodynamic upgrades, which Formula One’s official website says will reduce the ‘costly development arms race that can result in a less competitive grid’.

There will also be increased restrictions on the amount of times some components, such as brake pads and exhaust systems, can be replaced and standardised parts for certain areas, like fuel pumps and wheel covers, will be implemented.

Developments in driver safety have meant that the new cars will also be compliant with further safety measures, which can only be a good thing given the extreme danger that is part and parcel of Grand Prix racing.

Will the new rules deliver?

In terms of tackling Liberty Media’s primary objective of making Formula One more entertaining, the new regulations look to be an effective solution.

With the effect of dirty air on chasing cars dramatically reduced fans can expect to enjoy closer racing and more exciting weekends in 2021, even though the cars will be slower than they are currently. Formula One’s watchability is often panned by the sport’s critics, and the new rules feel like a leap forward in this respect.

Although the cars will not be as quick as the current crop, improving the quality of racing has been prioritised by the sport’s bosses for good reason, and it seems likely that the speed will progress year on year as teams develop ways to extract extra performance.

In addition, the significant changes to the sport’s financial structure and stricter technical regulations will challenge constructors more than ever before and hopefully push Formula One to meet and exceed its lofty expectations for future Grand Prix racing.

Photo: Guy Percival (https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=299475&picture=antonio-giovinazzi-at-f1-british-gp). Licenced for reuse under Public Domain

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